A Book Fair to Emulate by Connie Guzzo McParland

Più libri più liberi: more books, more freedom. Unlike Frankfurt, London, or Torino, Rome’s book fair has been designed for small- and medium-sized publishers. Big fairs like Frankfurt can be overwhelming for a small publisher. You do meet a lot more people there, but by the end of it, it’s all a haze. As the publisher of Guernica Editions, I participated last December in the Rome fair’s Fellowship Program, an opportunity for foreign publishers to strike deals with Italian publishers.

What did I learn? Bigger isn’t necessarily more productive.

In the outskirts of Rome, Più libri più liberi’s 400-plus exhibitors were packed in a maze-like configuration in the Palazzo dei Congressi—an imposing marble building on the aptly-named Viale Della Letteratura. What makes this fair unique may be the smaller, more manageable scale that renders it less intimidating and more accessible to small independent publishers, but public attendance is huge and so are book sales. Più libri più liberi, which has been organized by the Association of Italian Publishers since 2002, has become an important event in Italy and Europe, and it receives a lot of press and attention. Held every year just before the Christmas shopping spree, it attracts 50,000 attendees over five days. Besides the book exhibits, this year there were over 1,000 participants in various events, some televised, all well-attended: readings, launches, and discussions with Italian and foreign authors, including Quebec’s Dany Laferrière, who was a featured author. As in Canada, children’s books are of great interest, as well as crime fiction and graphic novels, but the full range of literary genres is represented in Rome.

“Bigger isn’t necessarily more productive.”

I was one of sixteen foreign participants in the fellowship program. Others came from the USA, UK, Israel, Portugal, Turkey, Latvia, Poland, and Greece. Because we were put up in the same hotel in the centre of Rome, we shuttled back and forth and lunched together. It was easy to connect and network with each other, and meetings with Italian publishers were also pre-arranged by the organizers.

As stated, the aim of the program is to promote internationalization of the Italian publishing industry, but there are opportunities for Canadian publishers to promote their own authors. Many Canadian publishers may not know that Italians read a lot more foreign authors in translation than we do in North America.

In the past, while browsing in Italian bookstores, I had noticed the proliferation of translated foreign authors, both classic and contemporary. As I visited the various book kiosks at the Rome fair, I also noticed the many publishers who specialize in translations of work from particular niche regions: the Slavic countries, Chile, etc., with Canada seemingly underrepresented. For sure, bestselling Canadian authors are pitched in the more prestigious fairs like Torino and Bologna, but I believe that there are as-yet untapped opportunities for interesting exchanges between smaller publishers.

At Più libri più liberi, there are big players represented by medium-sized publishers, but giant houses like Feltrinelli, Mondadori or Rizzoli aren’t here to overshadow independent publishers. The exhibitors are all given the same space and importance. No one dominates the scene.

I don’t believe there’s anything like it here in Canada, apart from the Salon du Livre de Montréal, which caters to French-language publications. Just consider what happened to the Inspire Book Fair experiment in Toronto. When the first edition closed and the big conglomerates failed to renew their participation for the following year, the organizers were forced to cancel.

“I don’t believe there’s anything like it here in Canada.”

So what event looks after the interest of independent English-language publishers in Canada?

The Rome Book Fair is not Frankfurt, but it serves independent publishers well. It puts them and their authors at the forefront during the busiest book buying season of the year, and gives them an opportunity to interact with their foreign counterparts. Canadian publishers’ organizations should take notice. This fair is one to emulate.

connieguzzomcparlandheadshotConnie Guzzo McParland has a BA in Italian Literature and a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Concordia University. Her first novel, The Girls of Piazza d’Amore, published in 2013 by Linda Leith Publishing, was shortlisted for the Concordia First Novel Award by the Quebec Writers’ Federation. The sequel, The Women of Saturn, will be published by Inanna Publications in April 2017. Since 2010, she has been co-director and president of Guernica Editions. She lives in Montreal. www.conniemcparland.com

Photo credits: Sara Cervelli (top banner); Anthony Branco (author’s headshot)

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